Heart Warming

Through the frosted panes of Freda’s front door I can make  out her zimmer at the foot of the kitchen step. The hall light is on.

All is well.

After jostling with the key she opens the door and greets me in her floral apron, tails trailing. (I wish they didn’t)

She looks a little shocked.

Her hair is a bit out of sorts.

She is very breathless.

Her nose and cheeks are mauve-grey.

I make a mental note to include “breathing”

“Are you expecting me?”

(occasionally the days are blurred)

“Oh yes I am”

“You seem a little out of puff”

Her hearing aids have still not arrived and she hears “out of touch”

We make our way from the door to her bed-sitting room and we sit together.

“I’m not connected at all.

My heart stopped while I was in bed this morning.

It was such a strange feeling that it made me sit up and then it started again.

The carers were very concerned and my doctor even kindly came to the house.

She checked me over very thoroughly and said that if there was no pain, it was fine. That it happens all the time and that normally we don’t notice it.

Well I did!”

“What was that like?”

I try not to let emotion interfere with my voice.

“Well I’m still alive, so I thought I’d better get on with it!”

Out of puff.

I come back to this.

I sit in front of her on a low stool and ask her to incline forward from the hips and to place her forearms on mine while she thinks of length through the front…. Length from the front of her pelvis to her brow and width across the front of her upper chest and shoulders.

This brings her away from her tendency to recline against the chair back, and prompts her to take responsibility for her balance as she sits ….

I ask her to walk towards the front of the chair by rolling from one sitting bone to the other and lifting each side of her pelvis.

I can now come around behind her to place my hands on each side of her rib basket, low at the back, and ask her to enjoy her breath.

She immediately expands into my hands and we laugh with the pleasure of this.

“I’ll bet you’ve done this thousands of times with your students ”

I was not intending to do breathing exercises as such, but I am happy that her ribs seem so free. She cracked them painfully from falling last summer.

“They don’t hurt a bit now”

It has taken her so long to describe her morning that we only do a little more work. She often finds it difficult to initiate speech, but once she does, she has much to say!

Moving from sitting to standing we continue with some work in front of the stool.

I ask her to consider the whole environment.

The roses in the garden to the front, and the hillside beyond.

the neighbours to each side, Totnes High Street out behind.

The sky

The earth.

The boundaries of her room.

The space that she occupies

All this while I softly bring my hands in turn to her sternum, her upper back, her crown and my toe to her heel.

The outer surface of her shoulders.

The crests of her pelvis.

We do a little more work in sitting and then finally I say

“Now, as you come to stand, I would like you to bring your attention to the space around you in its entirety, while you incline forwards from the hips and direct your crown away from the base of your spine.

Freda rises in a slow yet smooth flow.

“How was it this time?” I ask her.

“I don’t know if this makes sense, but it felt complete.”

“Poi a poi di nuovo vivente” …… (little by little regaining life)….. is how Beethoven describes the transition from exhaustion to renewed strength in his penultimate sonata.

At a concert a few years ago I witnessed this passage of music return roses to the cheeks of a very frail old lady in the audience.

Freda’s colour has improved and her demeanor is softer and more relaxed. Less scattered and more present.

Alexander speaks about the indirect benefit to the cardiovascular system.

When things are working a little better, everything has the potential for improved function.

Perhaps he and Beethoven would have had something to talk about.

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Anniversary

I notice I have been feeling inwardly dull despite knowing that I should be feeling so grateful for everything.

My internal weather is often at odds with my outer circumstances and is usually a barometer for stuff that goes on beneath the radar.

I’m not always quick to catch it.

There have been reminders of the astonishing Apollo mission…. The anniversary of that moment when on July 20th 1969, astronauts set foot on the moon.

We all watched it as a special event on tv in the common room at school.

It only struck me a year or two ago that the dates were very strange and did not fit my narrative.

My mother died on July 9th 1969 not long before my twelfth birthday.

Yet here I was watching television on July 20th.

I went home with my father just before the end of term.

I still wonder how the staff managed to keep that information beneath the radar.

Each year as that anniversary comes around, it seems to pinch me in different ways.

While I traveled on my bicycle in 2011-12 and then started to write about the journey on my return, this is what surfaced as a combination of summer 2011 and then 2013 when her anniversary surfaced again, as it is doing now.

The first summer without her was very hard.

When I eventually gather what is kicking me each summer, and especially when we have such gorgeous weather, the clouds lift a bit.

I’m hoping that they will again.

Here is the piece I wrote in 2013 as I remembered noticing in 2011

July 10th 1969/2013/2011

this time 2 years ago; this time 44 years ago

I was on a beautiful flat heath beside water and surrounded by exquisite feathers of grass. These were some of my favourite things about Denmark. Today as I am on my way home, the air in the narrow Devon lanes is stifling with clouds of dust and pollen thrown up by massive silage machinery. I have to squeeze back like a Borrower into the brambles and nettles to avoid annihilation. I pass the farmer regularly so we wave from our unequal vantage points.

The heat, the blinding July sunshine, hay-fever and a slight sense of spinning in the dazzle fracture into a kaleidoscopic shard of body-memory.

It is that time. Oh yes. Summer grasses. In July I gather summer grasses for my Mum.

July 1969

Despite the heat, Miss Johnson was still wearing her mauve mohair cardigan, fluffing out her narrow shoulders. She came straight into IIA classroom and with a weird smile, plucked me out of our dismal history lesson.

“Isn’t that nice Jenny? You are going home early”.

As we walked away from the class block, the breeze stirred her shaggy cardie like a field of ragged grass and set off little wafts of sharp body odour.

My pounding head seemed to have taken leave of my feet, as though they were at the wrong end of a telescope and the tarmac as we were crossing the school forecourt appeared to be whirling and tilting. My tongue did not feel at all right and my throat ached as if it was going to split. The other I, the sweet chatty little second former trotted along obediently beside J.J. as we called her, to the headmistress’s study. Usually girls visited the headmistress for misconduct, but once in a blue moon it was for something nice. This was very nice. My father was in the study.  The conversation was in soothing adult tones, but went mostly over my head. Somebody had waved a magic wand over my trunk, so it was already packed and in the boot of the car and when we finally got away from the school grounds to our usual lay-by we stopped for our ritual kunzel cake.

“Mummy, darling. Your Mummy has died”

The gold wedding band on my father’s elegant hand glinted from the steering wheel.

I scrambled onto his lap. My only thought was “my poor Daddy”.

I look back to a fleeting glimpse of that dear felt dressing gown on the landing with my mother bending over a trunk full of summer uniform. It was all going to be all right this time because the next operation was “just a little one”. It was a very unimportant, rather grown up kind of goodbye.

I was cold all summer.

While I rested beside the peaty water I realised I was idly twisting a stem of pretty grass. I gathered more and made a little wreath, including some sprigs of white and purple heather, darling Heather, in her memory. They made a sweet decoration to my handlebar bag.

I leant back against a post and allowed myself to sink into the quiet of the moment while my inner being probed around gently and gradually settled on the seabed of memory. There came the familiar ache of reminiscence, but afterwards another sense. More of peace and deep gratitude for having the chance to live into a dream and for it to become a reality. To be living so fully and to be feeling so richly alive.

When I got back onto my bicycle again, the next few miles were effortless as though I were being lovingly carried and my burdens felt as light as air.

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Weird with Freda… (getting ready for something that’s not going to happen)

The Alexander Technique is one way in which to claim more conscious choice over our destiny, by practicing awareness of our thought and movement patterns.

It’s Thursday morning with Freda.

“How are you this morning?”

“I feel half asleep.”

“Let’s go for a little zing”

My sense for today is to find ways to enliven whilst alleviating tension.

(On the theme of weird…. I have been working with a young woman, who in moments of unfamiliar, says “Weird!”

I like this.

We celebrate moments of weird.

Originally it derives from an expression of far deeper meaning and potential.

Power to control fate …. from the old English…. “wyrd”. Thanks Kirsten Harris for taking the trouble to retrieve this)

Back to Freda.

I share these thoughts with her and she enjoys the thought of being thoroughly “weird”!

I place a folded Blanket behind back…. Her eyes widen.

“On a scale of 0-10 how weird is this?”

Customary long pause.

“Why is that such a difficult question to answer?”

Her face characteristically crumples with determination.

“About a 4”

I’m happy with 4

I don’t want extremes of anything as these could be disruptive for her frail frame and uncertain balance.

In a previous session she had such a big release that when she stood up, she was momentarily very unstable .

She continues.

“Yesterday, on a scale of 0-10, I was functioning at about level 0-2

I didn’t know what day it was when I woke up. I was expecting my carer to help me dress, a caring staff member to review my care and I thought you were coming too”.

“I was busy getting ready for something that wasn’t going to happen. “

The pressure to drive forwards and at the other end of the scale, the temptation to give in and collapse.

The notion that we are pulled into one form or another of holding as a consequence of either extreme.

That with the technique, we aspire to a peaceful vitality that is not discharging energy in constant readiness for something that is not going to happen, but which is quietly poised and alert for each moment as it arises.

So much of drive is propelled by fear.

Fear of not having enough…. of missing the boat…. of being wrong….

in a fast moving world the pressure to keep up is hard to resist.

The understandable alternative is to become heavy with hopelessness…. collapse into “what is the point?”

Each of these extremes, over a period of time…. drive and collapse…..brings its own noticeable mould…. shapes our form to the extent that it can slip, unnoticed, beneath the radar.

We accommodate at the expense of our energy, balance and coordination.

Patterns of thought that correspond with gesture.

Freda and I talk about the effect of getting ready for something that isn’t going to happen….. how that effects the quality of being from moment to moment.

“It wasn’t very nice”

We consider that perhaps there is a restful place of equilibrium between drive and collapse that is at peace and yet vital.

For some reason, talking with her about drive and collapse, awareness and quality of being brings us into intimate connection.

“I love your quality of being Freda”

She looks straight at me with her blue eyes. Wide awake. Thinking. “Up

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The Trombonist

Stan is 70

When he grew his hair and formed a band his grandfather made uncharacteristic noises of disapproval.

But that didn’t stop him. He went into a musical world of his own and somehow, for the last 50 years, despite life’s ups and downs, made a fair living from gigs.

He lights up on stage. Is funny and melancholy and the long years of banter between him and his band is easy and spontaneous.

Being at one of their gigs is like being in a comfortable armchair in your front room with the added spell of captivating, warm hearted connection and fifties jazz.

He has knee pain which he says is from the ridiculous amount of driving he does.

He also says that he feels a little weary these days.

He says all this while looking out of the window or at the floor…. somewhat in retreat.

My sense…. my response…. is of being drawn in yet held off.

A kind of push pull that elicits a brake to natural flow.

I wonder about this brake.

“What ails thee?” hovers silently in my curiosity.

This while I bring my hands to his feet…. I am drawn here unexpectedly.

He is sitting.

I start to speak about effort and support. Bones and muscles. Function and balance.

His ankles and feet are beginning to soften a little with a corresponding freeing of the hips.

I talk about the knee… how the globe shaped condyles of the femur nestle in their reciprocal “saucers” of the tibia.

How being in perpetual slight “knees bend” is hard on the knees and over time leads to a sense of overall drained energy…. that the bones would love to do their job of support.

“I sag don’t I?” he says ruefully

So where is your “stuffing” now?

“All gone south!”

Over time we work on support (bones) and release (muscles) and bringing an alert yet peaceful vitality to the nervous system.

Sensitivity to the inner and outer environment.

Direction that is uplifting in response to the support of the ground.

Just sometimes it’s as though there is a heavy “overcoat” that seems to pass through the generations and that not only does not fit the wearer, but which causes weighty constraint…. and with Stan there was an occasional mention of men, relatives, incarceration during World war two. Of never being able to speak of unspeakable things.

Of the onus of responsibility and gratitude.

Of how decisions he had made as a teenager had appeared to be risky or even “drop out”.

As though he even felt a burden of guilt at having survived so long in an industry that can be fickle and uncertain.

The last time I saw him, he was his usual self-deprecating presence on stage…. but he had turned round a bit.

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The Guitarist

This is a complex chap.

He composes the most beautiful, gentle music.

One can tell from his compositions that he must be the most sensitive soul.

But he has a shadow in his heart.

A terrible rift from years and years ago that has echoed through his life and which sometimes spills out with a  critical cutting edge.

Buried in his world of music making I believe he finds peace…. that, ever beside him, is his true self.

Open and free; soft and rounded, like his music.

I spot him sometimes, but his sharp edges have hurt me and others I love, so I simply make space and hope to be forgiven.

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The French Horn Player

A French Horn

June 16, 2018 By Jenny Quick(Edit)

James comes from a family of distinguished military men.

3 generations.

He tells me that in the marines you break your body.

He is one of the youngest officers because of his leadership qualities.

He is a talented sportsman. Courageous and like a battering ram on the rugby pitch.

He sings like an angel…. the kind of clear youthful voice that brings you to tears.

But James is in a spot of trouble.

His ankles are susceptible to giving way and he has back pain first thing in the morning.

This is much worse when he surfs and he has to sit in an ice bath after long marches with insanely grabby I kit.

He once let slip “it’s never good enough”  and “it’s always my fault ”

He has a very muscle-bound physique. Tight. Bulked up. A thick neck and huge trapezius.

Pulled up at the front and tightly compressed in his lower back.

Standing with his legs wide apart, he tells me, eases his back pain.

I’ve known men like this since they were little boys.

Ruddy and roudy, busting a gut to be the best.

Gentle giants that have a soft centre…. one that is so easily wounded that layers of protection grow in as defence.

His arduous physical training has given him highly toned muscles.

It is these that are “on hold” and to attention for such long hours that his kinaesthetic sense is out of kilter.

He doesn’t know quite how to unwind and relax.

Neither does he realise that his bones could support him with much less muscular effort.

Some simple body mapping and his eyes are wide with sunrise.

His early attempts to get himself right (he is big on trying) bring about another kind of tension to start with.

Chin tucked in, shoulders elevated and in an effort not to lean back he has gone solid around his torso.

We agree that this makes breathing tricky.

A few more weeks.

We cover more ground…. work on allowing softness, fluidity, experimenting with less focus on being right.

He feels “weird” but more comfortable. His back is easier and his shoulders are not so stiff.

It does not feel like playing the horn, but he has noticed that he is faster around the squash court and his reactions are quicker.

He is still a little “held” but he is more aware of how to refresh his balance and his temper is less volatile.

Then one day he moves…. he is almost dancing…. he looks strong AND free.

He blushes a little.

Yes it’s all a bit of a story, but elements of it are about real people with real lives.

Names have been changed.

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The Percussionist

A text comes in

” Tim, we have a concert tonight and one of our percussion crew is sick can you fill in?”

Tim is an accomplished accompanist.

Not so much work these days.

He often wakes with anxiety and struggles to eat breakfast although he rushes out to buy coffee which is when he starts to calm down and face the day.

The last time he joined the percussion was to wield symbols.

He miscounted and where there should have been an almighty clash there was a mortifying quiet.

His alarm system is consistently on amber and frequently spikes into red….. which is where we see him.

Thin, nervy and ready to offer his two quavers at bar 76.

All went well.

He went home and nearly cried with relief.

Months later he was invited back to a more regular position with the orchestra.

In the mean time there has been a transformation.

He is eating and sleeping a little better.

He has become more aware of the strain he was under and has more control over his anxiety.

His parasympathetic nervous system is more balanced and he has discovered that he can trust himself more under pressure.

In the concert hall, he no longer waits with such grim determination and even enjoys being able to hear the music around him…. He pretty much knows his cue by ear and he finds he can count as well as notice the quality of contact with his feet on the floor.

He lets the intimidating looks from the conductor fly past him like a ball he no longer has to catch.

What happened?

A friend suggested he take a class in the Alexander Technique…… obviously!

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